Remembrance Sunday is an important time of reflection. It has been 101 years since the guns fell silent at the end of the ‘Great’ War, 75 years since D-Day and this year also saw the 75th anniversary of the ill-fated operation Market Garden, the offensive to capture strategic bridges in the Netherlands, that ended up in failure at Arnhem.
I think due to the film ‘ A Bridge too Far’ this battle in particular was seared into my imagination as a young lad. The bravery and the folly of it all. Anyway, in September there was a special commemoration held in at the Dutch town of Arnhem. One aspect of the service that caught my attention was the last wishes of Dennis Collier. Dennis, who fought in 156th Parachute Battalion, wanted to make one last parachute jump, sadly he was unable to so in life, but he managed to after he passed away.
At 10am on Friday 20th September his wish finally came true, as a Dakota light aircraft released the urn, containing the ashes of the former private. His ashes parachuted down on a classic WW2 silk chute to the original drop site. They were collected and then interred with two old comrades (Peter Faithorn and Stephen Morgan) at the commonwealth war grave at Oosterbeek. Fantastic. What a fitting tribute.
The Telegraph article described how the old soldier, who like many of his comrades, kept quiet about his war experiences. But he returned time and time again to the place where he lost so many of his friends.
I find it amazing and totally understandable that so many ex-servicemen wish lie to rest with fallen comrades. It must surely have been one of the most poignant times of their lives. In fact, since 2005, 68 veterans have had their ashes interred at Oosterbeek, which according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission CWGC has a total of 1,523 identified casualties at the site.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission and ashes
Interestingly, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which looks after all war graves abroad, does not normally allow the ashes of veterans to be scattered at its sites. However, an exception is made with the cemetery at Arnhem due to the strong bond shared between those who fought there.
The CWGC looks after a staggering 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries which commemorate almost 1.7m servicemen and women. We have a note about their policy on ashes that can be found – CWGC ashes policy.
So, on this day I would personally like to thank Dennis Collier and Peter Faithorn and Stephen Morgan, for their service to this country in helping to rid the world of tyranny so that this and future generations can live in a more tolerant world.